Johnny Puleo, 74, the little man with the giant harmonica who entertained kings, presidents and millions in movie, television and night club audiences, died of respiratory failure May 3 at Holy Cross Hospital. He was a native and resident of Washington.
Mr. Puleo, who was 4 feet, 11 inches tall, played the Palladium in London, entertained three presidents, and appeared on the Milton Berle, Dean Martin and Perry Como television shows, at the Latin Quarter in New York, the Palmer House in Chicago and for a time played 26 weeks a year at the Stardust in Las Vegas.
A pantomime performer, he never said a word. His role was always to be put upon and ignored and in this way he won the hearts of the public.
Mr. Puleo won a harmonica contest in Boston when he was 16 and was hired by Borrah Minevitch and his Rascals. They added a routine that featured Mr. Puleo's weaving among the other musicians, trying to be seen. Finally, Minevitch would catch him. Minevitch died in 1955 and Mr. Puleo formed a group called Johnny Puleo and his Harmonica Gang.
His movies included "One in a Million," "Love Under Fire," and "Rascals." His last, in 1957, was "Trapeze," with Gina Lollobrigida and Burt Lancaster. He retired in 1973.
He was a member of the Catholic Church of the Nativity in Washington, the musicians' union and AFTRA.
Survivors include four sisters, Stella Baker of Knoxville, Tenn., and Louise Puleo, Josephine De Rosa and Pauline Baker, all of Washington. graphics/photo: JOHNNY PULE